Flashes of my childhood have been flooding my mind and heart in recent days. Peering through the playground fence of my downtown daycare in Little Rock in the late 1960’s, I hear my teacher saying, “It’s okay to stand close, Tongua. The young people on those buses are nice and polite.” Watching the buses drive by filled with black, neatly dressed young adults, I remember feeling safe, peaceful, and inspired.
Now pursuing a certificate in spiritual direction, I am discovering the connection. The source of peace and love that radiated from those souls on the buses and landed in my five-year-old heart was the Divine Presence.
I’ve been seeking, reading and listening the past couple of weeks. I’ve learned that Dr. Howard Thurman and his wife guided the NAACP Saturday school trainers in leading their students through spiritual practices in preparation for their demonstrations. Required Saturday sessions of prayerful silence, stillness, and meditative prayer prepared young adults to respond, not react, from a place of peace, rest and love rooted in God. The Divine Presence was the source of their non-violence.
Dr. Barbara Peacock, a spiritual director, writes in her timely new book, Soul Care in African American Practice, “The cure to abolishing self-deception is to consistently invite the presence of the Holy Spirit into one’s life. Consequently, one will become more of a soul conduit of God’s loving presence.The human personality vacillates back and forth between the false self and who we really are in Jesus Christ. God desires that all know one’s true self.”
Dr. Peacock’s inspiring book details the spiritual and soul care practices of Frederick Douglass, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Dr. Jessica Ingram, Dr. Howard Thurman, and many others. She writes, “For people to develop into effective leaders, they must develop relationships that are centered in prayer, spiritual direction, and soul care. When these disciplines are not a priority, spiritual erosion will eventually develop in leaders. Therefore, I say, now is the time to call spiritual leaders and those they serve to become intentional about their intimacy with God. Their assignment is to disentangle themselves from the concerns of society, from technology, and from anyone or anything that gets in the way of them having an intimate relationship with their God.”
Soul Care in African American Practice is available as a free download through June 12, 2020 through Intervarsity Press. www.ivpress.com
Therese Taylor-Stinson, an associate faculty member of the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, is a spiritual director who was formed early on by her education in Catholic schools. She says that “the way forward to talk about justice, how we as human beings should treat each other, is that we have to spend time with the other -- and to spend time in that quiet -- to see the ‘other’ inside of us, to see the ‘other’ in our neighbors, to see the ‘other’ that’s out there.” As Martin Laird says, “Silence un-others the other.”
Joy Unspeakable is an important read by Barbara A. Holmes that chronicles the history, contemplative practices and spirituality of the black church, including monasticism.
So much of God’s work in the world begins in people’s hearts, and we we each need to be willing to do our part. We are His work in the world. If we give Him time, He will make Himself known to us. When we spend time in the quiet encountering God’s transforming presence, His light will change us. His light cannot and will not be hidden.
What would it look like for us to slow down with hospitality and care for our souls? To create space to be present with God daily, honestly opening our hearts and souls to His intimacy, while letting His love heal and take over our story, our soul, and our being?
I imagine that we would embody Christ's presence in our daily life, responding in love rather than reacting, collectively touching and healing our world with the emboldening light and love of His Holy Spirit.
May it be so.